Leaf him to it. Teochew opera advocate Nick Shen on being vegetarian
We are spoilt for choice when it comes to food because of the easy access to mouth-watering delights from around the globe.
For local former actor Nick Shen, however, these are a mere distraction from his all-time favourite dish - a simple bowl of porridge with vegetables.
Over lunch last Friday at Swatow Seafood Restaurant, the 37-year-old Teochew opera advocate told M that he is a Teochew boy at heart.
"I prefer to eat light, so Teochew porridge with broccoli and kai lan (Chinese kale) is my idea of a perfect meal," he said.
"Although I'm vegetarian, I've never fancied mock meat. I like my greens better."
He was in an upbeat mood as he feasted on a spread of vegetarian dishes, including enokitake mushroom soup, tofu, chestnuts dumpling, vegetable wrap and e-fu noodles.
There is major cause for celebration. Shen is the only Singaporean shortlisted for Junior Chamber International's 2014 Top 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World award.
The non-profit youth service organisation will unveil the 10 winners in Germany in November.
The boyish-looking entrepreneur, who runs his own Chinese opera events company Tok Tok Chiang, is recognised for being an active crusader of the arts and promoting Chinese opera to youths.
While he is jubilant at his nomination, he stressed that helping to save traditional Chinese opera is "more important" than receiving honours.
"More and more opera troupes are closing down and the audience are dwindling," he said with a sigh.
"It's a sad sight. I want to help the scene as best as I can."
What made you decide to go vegetarian?
It's for both religious and health reasons. I'm Buddhist and I've always felt that consuming vegetables is healthier.
Also, I made the promise - to go vegetarian - to my mum when she was ill. She passed away seven years ago.
What are some places in Singapore where you can find good vegetarian food?
Fortune Centre in Middle Road has many wallet-friendly vegetarian eateries and outlets. There is a vegetarian yong tau fu stall on the second floor; (it is) delicious.
Tong Le Private Dining at OUE Tower is a beautiful place to dine at. It's a revolving restaurant. They serve regular Chinese cuisine, but they also have a vegetarian menu. I must say the food presentation there is exquisite.
This place (Swatow Seafood) is great, too. Their vegetarian dishes are fusion-style and they have private rooms, so you can dine in privacy. The boss of Swatow is a friend and I perform Teochew opera here on most Friday nights.
Do you cook? Any signature dishes?
Yes, I do! I grew up watching my grandmother cook in the kitchen. This Chinese New Year, I prepared a full vegetarian reunion dinner for my family, which included fried rice, curry, and corn and white carrot soup.
Another dish I can do pretty well is vegetarian Teochew steamed fish. For the "fish", I don't use mock meat and use tofu and seaweed instead.
My dad's an amazing cook and sometimes, we'd cook bee hoon, char kway teow and boil white fungus soup for the elderly residents at old folks' homes.
Any memorable overseas food encounters? Is it tough to find vegetarian food outside Singapore?
Not really. Cambodia has several Western restaurants with wonderful vegetarian fare. All you need to do is order in advance. For example, they serve burgers with mushroom patties - very healthy and nice.
Taiwan has plenty of choice, too. I can find vegetarian delicacies even at their night markets.
Another place that left a deep impression is Tibet. The cooks in Tibet use Chengdu and Szechuan-style spices, which is different from the type of chilli used at most Singapore restaurants.
I adore Tibet. I'm going there again next week!